Various Artists

Sand and Steel: The Classic Sound of Jamaican Steel Bands

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The steel drum ensemble has a relatively recent history, emerging in Trinidad in the 1930s out of jump up groups who marched in festive Carnival processions banging all manner of car parts, pots, pans and tins, until the loose concept of a "steel orchestra" began to take shape. Things were helped along immeasurably when Winston "Spree" Simon began exploring the melodic possibilities of the steel oil drum, eventually developing a 14-note drum in the late 1940s. The steel drum, or "pan," was struck like a drum but played like a keyboard, and pan groups quickly applied the instrument to all sorts of styles, from military marches to even jazz and classical pieces, although calypso was usually the preferred form. This two-disc set includes selections from Jamaican steel bands recorded between the mid 1950s and early 1970s, and the versatility on display here is eye opening. Tracks range from traditional island fare like "Yellow Bird" and "Jamaica Farewell" to jazz standards like "Perfidia," folk ("Blowing in the Wind"), pop ("Bridge Over Troubled Water"), reggae (Toots Hibbert's "Bam Bam," Peter Tosh's "Maga Dog"), and edgy, almost experimental pieces like "Mambo Negro" by the Steel Band of the University of the West Indies. More recent steel bands have taken pan into bold experiments in funk and fusion and beyond, and given that the steel drum is an almost perfect representational instrument for the cast off nature of the contemporary age, it makes for a pretty amazing story of art and music literally rising out of the junkyard.

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